Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Accessibility

Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Accessibility

Tuesday, February 23, 2021 

Action Steps

In 2018, we established the EDIA Staff Committee comprised of volunteer staff, who we thank for their continued work in holding our organization accountable. In June 2020, we released a statement of support for Black lives and the Black Lives Matter movement, and since then our senior staff and leadership have met regularly to discuss areas where we have failed to address issues soon enough and to prioritize EDIA work and transform our theatre into a place of cultural equity. We’ve discussed the entire list of demands from We See You, White American Theatre in detail as a staff and within each department and acknowledged the important work WSYWAT has done with an update on our action steps in September. Our Board of Trustees formed a dedicated EDIA Committee and is working with the Staff EDIA Committee, leadership, and staff on the ongoing work to advance EDIA in the organization and to implement our goals and plans. We’d like to acknowledge the people who have for too long suffered from the inequities and unfair treatment in our industry and thank those who have put labor into driving us toward these conversations, and give them their due credit for the action steps we are taking.  

The following are some of the steps we have or will be working on. It is by no means comprehensive or finished; this is an ongoing, never-ending process. Cultural equity has always been important to us, and now we have an even greater focus on ensuring that we achieve cultural and racial parity in our workplace. Moving forward, we will be sharing a semi-annual update on this page, with our next update by August 2021. We readily welcome your feedback as we continue this work, which you may direct to aradia@signaturetheatre.org.

Artists & Productions 

Producing the work of artists from diverse backgrounds is something Signature has always aspired to do and is essential to supporting the artistic vision of our playwrights. To continue progress toward this, we will: 

  • Inaugurate LaunchPad in our 21–22 Season. We have been planning this new playwriting residency for the past two years that will support emerging writers from historically underrepresented communities.  
  • Continue to offer free SigSpace programming both virtually and in person to maintain accessible artistic programming for audiences.  
  • Eliminate the grueling practice of 10 out of 12 technical rehearsal schedules, effective immediately.  
  • Create an advisory board of artists by February 2022 to help continually identify areas for growth and improvement to have more equitable relationships.  
  • Commit to hiring diverse artistic teams from historically underrepresented communities and publicly share an audit of our artist demographics annually beginning July 2022. 
 

Audience & Community Engagement

While our Signature Ticket Initiative for 15 years has aimed to address the economic barrier of theatergoing and has subsidized over 1 million tickets, we recognize there are many other barriers and power imbalances in the American theatre that contribute to the lack of access, diversity and inclusion of audiences. We are committed to identifying and lowering those barriers and to building a radically inclusive environment for diverse audience members to experience our artistic offerings, and keeping our home, the Pershing Square Signature Center, open and free for all. 

  • In June 2020, we established the Anti-Racist, Anti-Discriminatory Interactions with Audiences (ARADIA) Committee to audit public-facing practices and policy to improve anti-racist, anti-discriminatory empowerment and protection of staff members and audience members; their work includes (but is not limited to) improving incident reporting and follow-through processes, auditing current audience services and patron services protocol, and researching and implementing training. As a first step in research and implementation, we will be implementing de-escalation training for all front-of-house staff. 
  • We have taken on additional research in December 2020 focused on belonging and inclusion with Black/African American and Latinx/Hispanic audience members to understand audience sentiment towards Signature and theatre experiences and identify areas for growth. We will use our findings alongside two other phases of audience research to build a more welcoming and radically inclusive environment at the Center and share our findings for others to learn from as well. 
  • In order to lower barriers to access, we have transitioned from a subscription model, which requires an upfront fee and purchase of a full season of tickets, to a membership model, which requires a fee with no minimum ticket purchase while maintaining the same benefits. 
  • Within one year, by February 2022, we will develop the framework for a partnership program to work with other organizations that support artists from historically underrepresented backgrounds, to share our resources and bolster the work already being done. 
  • Now through August 2021 we will work with Board Trustee and audience development expert Donna Walker-Kuhne to develop a strategic community engagement plan for our 21–22 Season to bolster our approach to sustained relationships with current and prospective theatregoers from historically underrepresented communities and to help us lower and remove barriers to attendance. 
 

Staff & Board 

  • We have established a standing Board EDIA committee that meets twice a month. 
  • We have established staff affinity groups for Black, Indigenous and people of color, Women and LGBTQ+, and a White anti-racism learning space. 
  • We offered access to Nicole Brewer’s Anti-Racist Theatre: A Foundational Course to staff October–December 2020 and will continue to seek opportunities to offer on an ongoing basis. All senior staff and leadership have taken this course. 
  • We have expanded our senior staff to increase and diversify decision makers: 
    • The position of Director of Artistic Programs has been promoted to senior staff. 
    • In January 2021, we created a new senior staff position, Director of Human Resources with a focus in EDIA.  
  • We have eliminated unpaid internships and will develop a plan by August 2021 to replace them with a paid professional training program. 
  • Our Board of Trustees has begun recurring EDIA and anti-racism training led by Board EDIA Committee Chair Donna Walker-Kuhne as of February 2021. 
  • The President of our Board of Trustees has made a substantial financial commitment toward EDIA work. 
  • The Board of Trustees has set a goal to prioritize recruitment of more people from historically underrepresented backgrounds. 
  • We will publish details of Board Member affiliation with corporations by August 2021 and update annually. 
  • We will develop a vendor audit by February 2022 to strive towards working with entities in alignment with our EDIA commitments and supporting more businesses run or owned by people from historically underrepresented communities. 
 

Fundraising  

Signature will commit to work to consistently combat the intrinsically classist nature of philanthropy through transparency, accessibility and accountability. To do so, the Development Department will: 

  • Sustain the work of the ARADIA Committee by implementing protocols/official reporting structures to the Patron Services operations.  
  • In conjunction with internal and external leadership—including the Board Development Committee and Just Inked (donor group of ambassadors for accessibility and diversity)—develop goals to fundraise for specific EDIA opportunities by August 2021 and continue the practice of never allocating that money to general operations. 
  • When asking Black, Indigenous and people of color to be highlighted and participate at fundraising events, always involve them in the conception of the event, always acknowledge and compensate them for their time, and always make it clear where any funds raised will be directed.  
  • Beginning in the 2021–22 Season, expand access to fundraising events that have been traditionally exclusive to donors by: 
    • Filming or broadcasting more events to be available to the general public. 
    • Eliminate the practice of dividing the lobby with a velvet rope. 
  • Audit our development programs, policies and benefits to better suit our EDIA efforts as an institution. 
  • Improve accessibility of our Annual Gala (starting in 2021) by inviting a larger audience and offering options for those with access needs. 
  • Provide transparency on who supports each production (when anonymity has not been stipulated) and more prominently highlight funders from marginalized communities and backgrounds, to be published on our website and in our program starting with the first production of our 21–22 Season. 
  • Publish our 990 on our website by August 2021 and update annually. 
  • Survey Signature donors annually to solicit feedback and involvement in our EDIA work by June 2022.  
 
Tuesday, February 16, 2021

What We Mean When We Say...

The following is our updated EDIA Statement and expansion on our commitment with definitions and sources.

“Our Commitment to Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility  

At Signature, we are continually building toward a more just, open and democratic theatre to celebrate playwrights and welcome all to our artistic home. We believe our strength lies in the diversity of our resident playwrights’ voices and vision, and that diversity enriches theatrical experiences.   

We aim to put people first and strive for fairness and respect for all. As we grow our artistic home upon the values of community, access and belonging, we pledge to work continually to become a place of cultural equity, and of orchestrated collisions between playwrights, other artists, staff and audiences so that everyone feels connected and welcome. We want our home to foster community and be a home for all.  

We exist within a framework where power is not evenly or fairly distributed, and access is unequal. We commit to work consistently to create a more equitable and inclusive environment across our organization for artists, staff and audiences from historically underrepresented communities, including but not limited to people who identify as Black or African American, Indigenous, Latinx or Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander and all people of color, women, LGBTQ+, immigrants and people with disabilities. Signature is not exempt from upholding the pervasive systemic oppression in our industry and country, and we are continually striving and learning how to be a more anti-racist, anti-oppressive theatre.” 

Definitions 

Equity: seeks to ensure fair treatment, equality of opportunity, and fairness in access to information and resources for all.1 
Diversity: the representation of all our varied identities and differences (race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, tribe, caste, socio-economic status, thinking and communication styles, etc.), collectively and as individuals. 1 
Inclusion: builds a culture of belonging by actively inviting the contribution and participation of all people.1 
Accessibility: the “ability to access” and benefit from some system or entity. The concept often focuses on people with disabilities or special needs and their right of access.2 
Put people first: The well-being of people comes before profit and power. 
Cultural equity: embodies the values, policies, and practices that ensure that all people—including but not limited to those who have been historically underrepresented based on race/ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, citizenship status, or religion—are represented in the development of arts policy; the support of artists; the nurturing of accessible, thriving venues for expression; and the fair distribution of programmatic, financial, and informational resources.3 
Orchestrated collisions: A core belief of our building’s design, we believe in the intentional intersection and removing of silos between artists and audiences. From our synchronized curtain times to shared backstage hallways between theatres, Signature Theatre is at its best when experienced within community.  
Historically underrepresented communities: Groups of or individuals who historically and currently face discrimination based on race, color, creed, ancestry, national origin, citizenship, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, affectional preference, gender identity or expression, sexual and reproductive health decisions, pregnancy, disability, genetic predisposition, age, military or veteran status, marital or familial status. 
Systemic oppression: the intentional disadvantaging of groups of people based on their identity while advantaging members of the dominant group (gender, race, class, sexual orientation, language, etc.) 4  
Anti-racist theatre: Practices and policies that do not actively or passively oppress any group of people in any aspect of education or production of theatre.5 Furthermore, we at Signature disavow and condemn white supremacy, and we will not tolerate it or acts of racism within our theatre. 

Sources 

1. Ford Foundation 
2. My Blind Spot 
3. Americans for the Arts 
4. National Equity Project 
5. Nicole Brewer 


Friday, January 8, 2021

Domestic Terrorism on Capitol Hill

As a not-for-profit organization, we are required to abstain from speaking in favor of any party or candidate. What we can do is speak up in support of democratic values. We believe the actions of domestic terrorism that disrupted the constitutional process in the Capitol and the peaceful transfer of power are disgraceful and anti-American, including the Confederate flag that was marched through the Capitol. They must be condemned by every elected official, regardless of party affiliation.

The deeply disturbing events of January 6th are a stark reminder that we cannot take our democracy for granted. Our promise at Signature Theatre is to uplift and uphold democratic values through amplifying important and underrepresented voices in the American theatre, offering democratic access to our work and through community building at our home. 


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Our Commitment to Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access

As we come to the close of 2020, we reflect on this arduous year. Artists and the entire theatre community have been hit hard. In addition to Covid-19, the U.S. has felt turmoil spurred by the brutal murder of George Floyd. In May, we joined our peers in affirming that Black Lives Matter.

Our staff’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access (EDIA) Committee has been working internally for two years, and this reckoning has been a focus for all of us at Signature these past several months. Today, we’d like to share with you our statement of commitment to Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access. As we move forward, recommitting ourselves to the tenets of equity, diversity, inclusion and access, we are taking steps to become an anti-racist institution.

Read Our Commitment to Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access on our About Us page under our mission statement.

Our EDIA statement must be accompanied by action. As we share these initial steps, we also commit to delivering a more comprehensive list by the end of February 2021, so that you may join in holding Signature Theatre accountable.

  • Our Board formed a dedicated EDIA committee to join our existing Staff EDIA Committee. Together, they are working to develop an EDIA action plan.
  • We have created identity-based affinity and learning groups for folks to come together in a supportive environment.
  • We are creating a new senior leadership position, a Director of Human Resources with an EDIA focus, and we are working to provide ongoing EDIA and anti-racism training for all levels of staff.
  • We have formed a group dedicated to anti-racist, anti-discriminatory interactions with audiences, to empower our staff to create an inclusive space for all people.
  • We pored over the We See You, White American Theatre demands and have been discussing how to address them with our Board, department heads, and full staff.


The preliminary work that has been done, and the work we are planning, is not incidental or fleeting. It’s crucial. Theatre will not survive if it does not evolve. An outdated, exclusive theatre is not something we want to hold on to. Our theatre is not perfect, and we do not aim for perfection. But we are committed to making ongoing progress towards equality, compassion, inclusion and access.

We’d like to thank community leaders, our artists, staff, and audiences who continue to call us to action. We look forward to sharing more updates in the coming months.

All the best,
Donna Walker-Kuhne, Board Trustee and Chair of Board EDIA Committee
Nina Matis, Board President
Paige Evans, Artistic Director
Harold Wolpert, Executive Director


Thursday, August 27, 2020

We See You, White American Theater

On July 27, Signature Artistic Director Paige Evans was contacted by We See You, White American Theater (We See You WAT), and this email was sent in response. We thank We See You WAT for their labor in holding us accountable during this time of much needed reckoning. We have started to evaluate our various structures and are working with our board, staff, artists, and community on how to address and implement these necessary changes.

“We at Signature Theatre acknowledge the receipt of the email from We See You, White American Theater. We have shared the demands with our senior team, who have been reviewing and discussing them, as well as with our resident playwrights, full-time staff, and board for discussion. We are building a timeline to implement the anti-racism goals outlined in our solidarity statement. As we undertake the essential work to build a more just, equitable and anti-racist company, we are considering a range of views and will engage with a variety of people to develop a plan tailored for Signature. We will report a fuller list of action steps publicly, after we have discussed, gauged what we can afford, and built accountability systems for ourselves. In the meantime, we’ve outlined below our initial action steps.

While we are in discussion regarding our Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility (EDIA) initiatives, these are currently underway:
 

  • ​Signature has an EDIA Staff Committee that has been meeting for three years. We are adding an EDIA Board Committee, chaired by Trustee Donna Walker-Kuhne.
  • We have developed an internal website for staff to access research and share resources regarding anti-racism work. The site also allows staff to track Signature-specific updates and timelines regarding our anti-racism work.
  • We are drafting an EDIA mission statement that prioritizes anti-racism and will be shared publicly.
  • We have established affinity groups for BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and female employees, and we have a space for white staff members to discuss anti-racism practices.
  • We are committed to allocating staff time for anti-racism learning and discussion. Our first step was a full staff EDIA workshop facilitated by Donna Walker-Kuhne.
  • Hiring processes are under review and will be adjusted once we are able to hire again, following the pandemic.
  • We have formed a committee dedicated to anti-racist interactions with audience members and the public.*


Signature is serious in our commitment to anti-racism. This work is difficult and crucial, and it will be ongoing. As conversations continue about dismantling systems of oppression and racism, we welcome further collaboration with a variety of organizations like We See You, WAT, who have done significant work to highlight, call out, and name harmful practices. We are committed to listening and thank them for advancing the conversation to a national platform.

All our Best,
Paige Evans (Artistic Director), Harold Wolpert (Executive Director) and Donna Walker-Kuhne (Board EDIA Committee Chair) Signature Theatre, NYC”

*The forming of the committee was in process when this email was sent, and this detail has been added after our response email was sent to We See You WAT.


Sunday, May 31, 2020

Black Lives Matter

We stand alongside everyone seeking justice for Tony McDade, George Floyd, Nina Pop, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjohn Reed and too many others in the Black community. Black lives matter. 

We are thinking about how the lives of Black and Brown people have long been affected by systemic oppression. On top of that, Black people have disproportionately suffered during the pandemic, and police brutality rages on. Deep-seated racial bias is causing pain, fear, despair, outrage and frustration for so many people.

Along with our Black artists, staff, friends and community members, we demand that all Black people not only have the most essential rights to live and to breathe, but also full justice and equality. We want to acknowledge here that white supremacy exists in America and in our field. We will strive to become an anti-racist theatre. We will prioritize a tangible dismantling of all systems of oppression throughout our work, no matter how uncomfortable those conversations.

In our commitment to build a more just, equitable and anti-racist company, we will match our words with deeds, in conjunction with and inspired by our artists, colleagues and all those who set an example for us to follow. We will:

  • Uplift Black people and communities of color who are oppressed by white privilege and power by listening, providing support, and taking action. We will center this within our core values and beliefs of access and community building. We must acknowledge that in our country, we live within a framework of power that is not evenly or fairly distributed, and privilege is unequal. We will ask white people to understand white privilege.
  • Acknowledge where we have come up short or have not done enough soon enough and work to hasten our internal work to create an anti-racist company by consulting with community leaders who can help to point out our own unconscious contributions to imbalance and privilege.
  • Make shifts in our processes to listen to the voices of the oppressed and disenfranchised. We must acknowledge that Black people are not obligated to teach us how to care for them, and commit to doing the hard work to learn what support they need.
  • Tell stories about, by, and for people from historically underrepresented communities, to appropriately honor the diversity of experiences that enrich our country.
 

We encourage you to support these causes, memorial funds, funds for direct families:

 

We have compiled a list of resources and organizations that have been shared with us, which is by no means comprehensive. We also encourage you do your own research for resources that would be valuable for your individual journey.

 

*These organizations are worthy of support, but have indicated that due to the outpouring of support recently, they recommend directing donations elsewhere, especially to those which are Black and BIPOC lead, to support the ongoing struggle for liberation, racial justice, and equity.